The American Boychoir has had an eventful 2014 that's included an appearance in a Hollywood feature film, a visit to the Toronto Film Festival and a December East Coast tour that has the group singing Christmas music in seven different languages.
Eleven members of the choir, led by music director Fernando Malvar-Ruiz, visited the WQXR studios early this month to present a selection of carols and songs. The ensemble began with "Mary Had a Baby" and "We Wish You a Merry Christmas."
Based in Plainsboro, NJ, the American Boychoir is one of two accredited boychoir boarding schools the United States, the other being the Saint Thomas Choir School in Manhattan. The group, which marked its 75th anniversary last year, is characterized by a unique sound and facility in a wide range of styles.
Specifically, unlike the famous Vienna Boychoir, on which it was originally patterned, the American Boychoir uses so-called voices-in-transition. "That's what distinguishes us from almost any other boychoir in the world," said Malvar-Ruiz. "It's the fact that we have changing voices still singing with us. It's adding that new color that makes our sound so unique."
This allows the ensemble to fill out SATB (soprano, alto, tenor, bass) choral arrangements (and beyond), as we hear below in these performances. But as 12-year-old chorister Douglas Butler explains, the choir's sound is also the product of hard work, with a school day that stretches from 8 am to 6 pm. "We've tacked an extra three hours at the end of every day for a rehearsal," he says. "We have to learn a lot of music and a lot of times we have to do it quickly" – and by memory. Below: Bach's Domine Deus:
The American Boychoir is the centerpiece of a forthcoming film called "Boychoir." Directed by Academy Award-winning film director Francois Girard, it stars Dustin Hoffman and Kathy Bates in a feel-good tale about a troubled boy from Texas who attends the American Boychoir School. Due for national release in 2015, it garnered raves at its Sept. 6 premiere at the Toronto Film Festival.
"We did three weeks of filming and a few more weeks of recording the soundtrack," said Malvar-Ruiz. The film was shot at Connecticut’s Fairfield University and in New York, but the American Boychoir School's uniforms, logo and identity are to be used. This is just the latest Hollywood encounter for a choir whose performances have been featured in numerous films and commercials since its founding in Columbus, Ohio in 1937.
The choir has been steeped in holiday music throughout its history – at least since its first appearance in a national television broadcast of Gian Carlo Menotti’s opera, Amahl and the Night Visitors, in 1951. Among its performances this month is an appearance at the Metropolitan Museum of Art on Dec. 16. Watch their fourth WQXR performance below and listen to the full segment, with host Terrance McKnight's interview, at the top of this page.
Video: Kim Nowacki; Audio: Irene Trudel; Production & Text: Brian Wise